Imatges de pÓgina

dadies (we must confess it, notwithstanding the infinite respect which we have for them) have treated men as they complain that the men have treated them; and the story of Jocondo is much more ancient than Ariosto.

Perhaps this universal taste for novelty is a benefit of nature. We are told, Content yourselves with what you have desire nothing beyond your situation subdue the restlessness of your mind. These are very good maxims; but if we had followed them, we should still live upon acorns and sleep under the stars, and we should have had neither Corneille, Racine, Molière, Poussin, Le Brun, Le Moine, nor Pigal.



It must be acknowledged that these two great men were exceedingly different from each other in their conduct, their fortune, and their philosophy. Descartes was born with a brilliant and powerful imagination, which made him a singular man in his private life as well as in his manner of reasoning. This imagination was apparent even in his philosophical productions, which in every page abound in striking comparisons and illustrations. Nature had nearly made him a poet; and he actually composed for the queen of Sweden a dramatic entertainment, which, to

the advantage of his fame, was never printed. He i engaged for a time in the profession of arms; and,

even after he had devoted himself to philosophy, he did not think it unworthy of him to make love. The mistress of his affections was called Francine, who died young; and her loss he sincerely and tenderly regretted. He thus experienced all that appertains to humanity.

He for a long time deemed it expedient to seclude himself from mankind, and especially from his own country, in order to philosophize at perfect liberty. In this he acted wisely. The men of his own times were too ignorant to be able to communicate to him

any knowledge, and were capable only of doing him i injury. He quitted France, because he sought for truth, which was at that time persecuted by the wretched philosophy of the schools; but he did not find reason more prevalent in the universities of Holland, which he chose for his retreat; for at the very time when the only propositions of his philosophy that were true were condemned in France, he was also per secuted by the pretended philosophers of Holland, who understood him no better than those in his own country, and who, as they saw his glory more nearly, hated his person more bitterly. He was obliged to leave Utrecht; he even experienced the accusation of athe ism, that last resource of calumniators; and the man who had devoted all the accuteness of his extraordinary intellect to the discovery of new proofs of the existence of a God, was most absurdly charged with denying him altogether. The various persecutions he sustained implied extraordinary merit and distinguished reputation, both of which he actually possessed. 4thwart the profound darkness of the schools, and the prejudices of popular superstition, a ray of reason pervaded the world. His name at length obtained such celebrity, that rewards were held out to him with a view to his residence in France. He was offered a pension of a thousand crowns. He returned in the expectation of this allowance; but after being at the expence of paying for the patent (for patents were at that time not given, but purchased) he never received his pension, and returned to philosophize in his solitude of North Holland, at the time when the great Galileo, at the age of eighty years, was languishing out his life in the prisons of the Inquisition, for having demonstrated the motion of the earth. He at length died prematurely at Stockholm, in consequence of an improper regimen, amidst a number of learned men who were hostile to his opinions or envious of his celebrity, and under the superintendence of a physician who hated him.

The career of Sir Isaac Newton was widely different. He lived to the great age of eighty-four years, always peaceful, happy, and honoured by his country. It was his great good fortune, not merely to be born in a free

country, but at a period when the absurdities of the schools were banished, and reason alone was cultivated; the world could become only his scholar, and not his enemy.

One point in which he may be strikingly contrasted with Descartes is, that in the course of so prolonged a life he felt neither passion nor weakness. He never once associated as man with women, which was expressly stated to me by the physician and surgeon in whose presence, if not in whose arms, he expired." Newton may for this excite our admiration, yet. Descartes ought not to incur our censure.

The prevailing public opinion in England respecting these two philosophers is, that Descartes was a visionary and Newton a sage. Very few persons in London read Descartes, whose works have in fact become totally useless.

Newton also has very few readers, because it requires great knowledge and sense to understand him. Every body however talks about them. No merit is allowed to the Frenchman, and every merit is ascribed to the Englishman. There are some who think that the destruction of the old and once universally received doctrine of nature's abhorring a • vacuum;' that our knowledge of the gravity of the atmosphere; that the discovery of telescopes ;-are all to be attributed to Newton : he resembles in this respect Hercules in the fable, to whom the ignorant gave the glory of achievments actually performed by other heroes.

In a critical examination written at London, of the discourse of M. de Fontenelle, the author ventures to assert, that Descartes was not a great geometrician. Those who use this language may well be reproached

* This proves that Newton's physician was not so good a natural philosopher as himself. There is no unequivocal proof of such abstinence in man ; and a man who dies at the age of eighty-four, whose mind was calm and regulated, and who lived a retired and studious life, may possibly nevertheless have had his weaknesses, although there may be no living witnesses to altest them. Besides, even if Newton had in fact been perfectly unacquainted with the enjoyments in question,

what benefit could possibly have resulted from it to mankind French Ed.



with ingratitude to their benefactor. Descartes con structed as noble a road of science, from the point at which he found geometry to that to which he carried it, as Newton himself did after him. He is the first who taught the way to find the algebraical equations of curves.

His geometry, thanks to his powerful and inventive mind, although now become common and familiar, was in his own time so profound, that no professor ventured to undertake the task of explaining it, and that there was not a man besides Schultens in Holland, and Fermat in France, who really comprehended it. He carried this spirit of geometry and invention into optics, which under him became a completely new art; and if, notwithstanding this, he was in some respects entirely mistaken, it is to be remembered that the discoverer of new lands cannot instantly become acqainted with all their various productions and qualities. Those who came after him owe him some obligation at least, simply for the discovery. I will not deny that all the other works of Descartes abound in errors.

Geometry was a guide which he had in some degree discovered himself, and which would have conducted him safely through his physical researches; he however at last abandoned this guide, and gave



to the spirit of system. From that time his philosophy became nothing more that an ingenious romance, and at most only probable even to the ignorant philosophers of the day. He was mistaken on the nature of the soul, on the laws of motion, on the nature of light. He admitted the doctrine of innate ideas; he invented new elements; he created a world; he, made man on his own peculiar system; and it was truly said, that Descartes's man was a very different being from the real man. He carried his metaphysical errors so far as to maintain that two and two make four, because it is the will of God they should do so; but notwithsanding all this, it is not going beyond the bound of truth to say, that he was estimable and respectable even in his very errors, He was mistaken, but he was at least methodically, consistently, and we may almost say, ration


ally mistaken. If he invented new chimeras in physics, he at least had the merit of destroying old ones. He taught his contemporaries the way to reason, and how to turn his own weapons against himself. If he did not pay in good sterling money, he at least cried down what was false.

Descartes gave an eye to the blind; they saw both the faults of antiquity and of himself; the road opened by him has since become immense. The little work of Rohault constituted at one period, what was deemed a complete system of natural philosophy; at present, all the collections of the academies of Europe cannot be considered even as the commencement of a system. In attempting to fathom this abyss, we discover infinity.

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SECTION if. Newton was at first intended for the church. He began with being a theologian, and evident marks of his early disposition and studies remained with him through life. He decidedly adopted the Arian, in opposition to the Athanasian system. He even went somewhat farther than Arius, as do all the Socinians. There are in Europe, at present, many learned men of this opinion; I do not say of this communion, for they do not constitute an organized and incorporated association. They are indeed divided by considerable shades of difference among themselves, and many among them reduce their system to simple deism, with the superaddition of christian morality. Newton was not one of this latter description. He differed from the Anglican church only on the point of consubstantiality, and was a firm believer in everything besides.

One proof of his sincerity is, his commentary upon the Apocalypse. He discovers in that book that the pope is antichrist, and he explains it also in other respects, like all those who have undertaken the task of interpreting it. It would seem to have been his intention, by this commentary, to console the human race for his individual superiority.

Many who have read the little that Newton wrote on metaphysical subjects, which he has introduced

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